North Carolina running back Michael Carter could be intriguing Day 3 option – The Denver Post
One of the best parts of North Carolina games in recent seasons has been watching running back Michael Carter get handed the football and counting the missed tackles.
Some were routine. A defensive lineman or linebacker squaring him up in the gap only to be left grasping at air.
Others were more impressive. A safety met meeting him at the second level but unable to stop Carter with a full head of steam.
Then there were the rare runs, such as the one he made during the third quarter of a game against Notre Dame last November.
Carter got a hand-off and took four steps to the right before cutting upfield and making the Fighting Irish look silly. He zoomed past a defensive tackle and linebacker, made a jump-cut eight yards downfield to elude an oncoming safety and carried another linebacker for three additional yards.
The linebacker who got taken for a ride and needed help from a teammate to tackle Carter? Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, who is expected to be a first-round pick in Thursday’s NFL draft.
Carter had longer runs, splashier plays and more important moments last season on his way to finishing fourth in the FBS with 1,245 rushing yards. But the blend of speed, vision and power he displayed on that 16-yard carry should interest the Broncos enough to consider drafting him.
In a perfect world, Broncos general manager George Paton could address more pressing needs in the first three rounds (cornerback-edge rusher-offensive tackle?) and select Carter with a fourth-round pick (No. 114). Adding him to a running back room that includes starter Melvin Gordon and reserves Royce Freeman and Mike Boone would continue an offensive makeover that began with last year’s draft.
Carter’s talent is as intriguing as his path to becoming one of this draft’s best running backs. He and teammate Javonte Williams, a projected second-round pick, split carries the last three seasons. Now they are trying to become the latest set of running backs from the same program to be selected in the top four rounds of the same draft. Other recent examples include Alabama’s Josh Jacobs (first) and Damien Harris (third) in 2019, Memphis’ Darrell Henderson (third) and Tony Pollard (fourth) in 2019, Georgia’s Sony Michel (first) and Nick Chubb (second) in 2018 and Alabama’s Derrick Henry (second) and Kenyan Drake (third) in 2016.
The Williams-Carter timeshare was ideal for the Tar Heels offense, but has its pros and cons for their draft stock.
Pro: Each player was fresh throughout the season. Carter never had more than 177 carries in a season and totaled 514 carries in four seasons. Less tread on his tires could lead an NFL team to believe his best is still to come. Plus, his efficiency (at least 5.7 yards per carry in every season, topped by 8.0 yards per carry in 2020) was superb.
Con: Carter never got to show he could be a true workhorse tailback. He hit the 20-carry mark in a game once apiece in 2019-20. Similarly, he has had fewer opportunities to make plays in certain situations (red zone, third down). Proving he can fill a third-down role is where his NFL career is likely to begin considering he is 5-foot-7 and 201 pounds.
Those concerns are real, but Carter’s strengths are equally legitimate.
Carter played 23 of 57 offensive snaps against Notre Dame and carried eight times for 57 yards and added one catch for 23 yards. He was one of the few bright spots for an offense that managed just 58 yards on six second-half drives.
Carter showed patience on his first carry of the game, following the pulling right guard and right tackle through the hole on the left side. He broke two tackles near the line of scrimmage and another up the field before weaving through the secondary for a gain of 26.
Later in the first half, Carter went in motion from right to left and caught a swing pass on his only target from quarterback Sam Howell. He made one defender miss about seven yards downfield, maneuvered past two more and raced up the sideline for 23 yards.
Carter is a shifty runner, but generally does a good job of getting upfield quickly. When necessary, he will put his head down and push forward for two or three yards to keep the offense on track. Not every play can be a home run, so that mindset is important.
He’s competitive as a pass blocker — necessary for a third-down back — but his size is a limiting factor. He squared up Notre Dame linebacker Marist Liufau in the second quarter, but was a bit overpowered as Liufau got through to help sack Howell. Carter isn’t a liability in pass protection but will need to sharpen his technique.
Carter played 32 of 66 offensive snaps in an October game against Virginia Tech and finished with 17 carries for 214 yards and two touchdowns and one catch for 15 yards.
As part of his big day, Carter forced at least eight missed tackles, again showing stop-and-start cutting ability. He broke a tackle near the line in the second quarter to turn what should have been a short gain into a 27-yard run and scored a 62-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter when he forced a safety into a bad angle and beat him up the sideline.
The only knock on Carter against the Hokies was a dropped pass in the flat that appeared to be the result of him not looking the ball in all the way. Mistakes like that will be magnified at the NFL level, but Carter does show sharp route-running ability and solid hands (71 catches the past three seasons).
Carter is not built to step into an NFL offense and handle 15-18 carries per game, but the Broncos don’t need him to do that. If he can be a change-of-pace option behind Gordon and provide return value, he will be worth an early Day 3 pick.
The case could be made the Broncos could be better off waiting another round or two to add a running back. Drafting a safety or inside linebacker at No. 114 could make sense depending on how the first three picks are used, but if Carter is available, what he brings to an offense is appealing.
Player Worth Trading Up to Take: Travis Etienne, Clemson. One of the most decorated running backs in ACC history, Etienne could have been a first-round pick had he come out in 2020. After running for more than 1,600 yards in 2018 and ’19, he was less productive as a senior (914 yards). Still, Etienne’s balance and acceleration lead to big plays. If he slips to the 35-38 range, it would be tempting to get a player of his pedigree.
Player to Stay Away From: Rhamondre Stevenson, Oklahoma. At 5-11, 231, Stevenson should be able to help in short-yardage situations. But the Broncos could be better off adding a player with more pass-catching ability. Stevenson caught 28 passes in 19 games at Oklahoma and was hit with a six-game suspension for a failed drug test while with the Sooners.
Second-Day Steal: Kenneth Gainwell, Memphis. Gainwell only started one season at Memphis, but what a season it was. He ran for 1,459 yards and 13 touchdowns and added 51 catches for 610 yards and three touchdowns in 2019. Antonio Gibson was a third-round pick out of this system in 2020 and looked like a future star as a rookie in Washington last season.
Third-Day Talent: Kylin Hill, Mississippi State. Opting out mid-season is a red flag, but Hill has proven capable of doing what the Broncos need out of a later-round pick. In 27 games, he totaled 63 catches for six touchdowns. Additionally, he ran for 1,350 yards in 2019, which turned out to be his best season. If the Broncos are comfortable with his maturity, Hill has upside as a third-down tailback.